The Midnight Chapter
Chapter 1: Twilight Sparkle and the New Beginning
If she had been able to see only the face of the pony before her, Twilight Sparkle would have assumed she was, in fact, talking to a narwhal. He was certainly the most unusual looking alicorn she ever met, though admittedly she didn’t know many alicorns. In fact, his race was only an assumption on her part. But what was she supposed to conclude, considering he had wings and a presumably magical horn? Even if said horn was growing out of his face where a nose should have been. The rest of the alicorn was nothing to overlook either. He had wide, staring bloodshot eyes and an impish grin, both of which sent chills down Twilight’s spine. The alicorn dressed impeccably in a black silk suit and polished horseshoes of the same color. His mane was white and thin, while his hide was a shade of beige.
Less unusual were her surroundings. She was in a small library apparently built with comfort as well as research in mind. In front of the bookshelves lining the walls stood desks and comfortable looking couches with soft cushions. These seats, as well as the floor, were covered in blue velvet. A fire burned brightly in one corner, keeping the library dimly lit. In the back of the room stood a large window edged with an ornate, gold-trimmed frame. It had been diligently cleaned to allow occupants a clear view outside. However, the only thing visible was a swirling mist that obscured all else.
With all this in mind, Twilight Sparkle concluded that she was dreaming. The alicorn cheerfully assured her of this.
“My name is Igor, and I am delighted to make your acquaintance.” His voice was soft and calm. “This place exists between dream and reality, mind and matter. It is a room that only those who are bound by a "contract" may enter. It may be that such a fate awaits you in the near future. Now then, why don't you introduce yourself…?”
Twilight had a million questions for him, but she found herself saying nothing but her name. Igor nodded.
“I see. Now, to business. Let’s take a look at your future, shall we?” His horn glowed, summoning a deck of cards onto one of the desks. Igor shuffled them, then counted out seven, arranging the cards in three rows, the first and the last containing two cards, and the center containing three. “Do you believe in fortune telling? Each reading is done with the same cards, yet the result is always different…Life itself follows the same principles, doesn't it?”
The first card he flipped over depicted the full moon, flanked by four stars. Beneath it, a building was collapsing. “Hm… The Tower in the upright position represents the immediate future. It seems a terrible catastrophe is imminent.” Next was a picture of a unicorn with a witch’s hat and various magical tools laid out before her. The unicorn’s cutie mark was the infinity symbol. “The upright Magician represents great talent, hindered by the lack of maturity to apply it toward a purpose.” Igor lifted his eyes from the table to wink at her. “Remind you of anyone?”
Twilight frowned. She did not reply to his comment. Indeed, she wasn’t sure if she could have. Entering the dream library seemingly robbed her of her voice.
The last card he revealed was also a picture of the moon, but here it appeared alone, a black circle containing a white crescent shape. “The Moon, in the upright position. This card represents "hesitation" and "mystery"… Very interesting indeed. It seems you will encounter a misfortune at your destination, and a great mystery will be imposed upon you. In the coming days, you will enter into a contract of some sort, after which you will return here.”
Igor dismissed the cards. “The coming year is a turning point in your destiny… If the mystery goes unsolved, your future may be forever lost. My duty is to provide assistance to our guests to ensure that does not happen. Ah! I have neglected to introduce my assistant to you. This is Margaret. She is a resident of this place, like myself.”
Until Igor pointed her out, Twilight didn’t notice the stunningly beautiful unicorn. She was tall and willowy, with a blonde mane and blue hide matching the color of the furniture. “I am here to accompany you through your journey.” Margaret bowed. As if this had been a signal, the room began to fade from Twilight’s vision. The last thing she heard before she awoke was the strange alicorn speaking. “We shall attend to the details another time. Until then, farewell…”
Twilight had no time to dwell on the strange dream. As soon as she awoke the next morning, she had to pack her things and hurry to Canterlot’s train station, or she would miss her train. She was left with just enough time to bid a quiet farewell to the library in which she had grown up and learned so much.
On board a horse drawn locomotive, she took out a message from her mentor, Princess Celestia, and read it for the tenth time in as many days.
My Dear Twilight Sparkle,
It is only fitting that I begin this letter with an acknowledgement of your accomplishments in the arcane academics. Over the time you have been my pupil, I watched you grow into a fine young unicorn and a skilled magician. I still clearly remember our first lessons, and your boundless enthusiasm for learning, which you have never lost.
However, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that studying and magic are quickly becoming your only interests. It simply isn’t healthy for a young pony to be confined to the inside of a library every single day, never knowing the joys of friendship. For this reason, I have arranged for the next year of your education to take place at Ponyville High, in the town of the same name. During this time, you will be staying with your aunt Hyperion, the local librarian. I wish you luck on your studies.
Twilight wound the scroll closed, feeling utterly dejected. The unicorn hated to question the judgment of somepony she respected so much (Twilight had made no attempt to avoid her move to Ponyville), but she would have given just about anything to stay in Canterlot. Why did she have to leave? Furthermore, what did friendship have to do with magic, anyway?
The train arrived at Ponyville Station in the early evening. As soon as she got off the train, she was greeted by a cheerful voice. “Welcome to Ponyville!” The speaker was a tall white unicorn with a cutie mark that looked like a setting sun. She was wearing a dark brown coat. “My name is Hyperion, and I’m your mother’s older sister.”
“It’s very nice to meet you.” Twilight shook the hoof she was offered and tried a smile.
Ever since she received the letter, Twilight had harbored feelings of suspicion about her living arrangements. Aunt Hyperion? As far as she could recall, there was no one in her family by that name. Her mind was too focused on the move to Ponyville to question this strange relative, but meeting her so-called aunt in person brought her doubts back to the surface. There was something oddly familiar about the waviness of her pink mane, as well as the pendant on her necklace. Could it be? Twilight shook her head. No, it was impossible. Why would the princess of Equestria follow her all the way here?
She didn’t have long to dwell on this, as Hyperion soon gave her another reason to wonder if something was going on. “The pleasure is mine. Oh, and there is my younger sister.” She raised a hoof to indicate a midnight blue filly standing behind Twilight, then suddenly lowered it, as if she had changed her mind. For a moment, Hyperion’s expression suggested she was looking at a stranger, but it soon changed back into a friendly smile. “Artemis, come and say hello to your cousin.”
As Artemis greeted her shyly, the lavender unicorn noted the moon on her flank. An idea came to her. “I don’t mean to hurry you, but it’s almost nightfall. Should we be heading to your house?”
The younger sister frowned. “You don’t like the night?”
Twilight twisted her face into a scowl. “I hate it. As far as I’m concerned, the sooner I get to bed, the sooner it will be over and I can see the sun.”
Artemis’s eyes shone with tears, and her lower lip quivered. “W-why would you say that?”
“AHA!” Twilight cried triumphantly. “I knew it! You’re Princess Luna! Which means…” Her excitement gave way to disbelief. “Princess Celestia?” She turned to her mentor. “But what are you two doing here?”
“Everypony needs a vacation from work, my dear student.”
Twilight did not find her answer satisfactory. “But who will run the country? And raise the sun?” She noticed that Luna still looked upset. “And, of course, the moon?” She added.
Celestia walked toward the exit of the train station, motioning for her sister and pupil to follow. “We will continue those duties, of course. Rule of the country, however, has been temporarily placed in the capable hooves of a select group of nobles and political leaders, the overwhelming majority of whom are completely trustworthy.”
Again, Twilight feel comforted by her teacher’s words. “The majority?” She felt herself torn between her trust in her mentor and her shock what the princess was saying.
“I felt it was high time a certain nephew of mine learned about the responsibilities of the title he seems so eager to flaunt.”
Disregarding his breeding and inborn telekinesis, Prince Blueblood grabbed the mug of coffee with both hooves and choked it down. Wiping his mouth with a sweaty sleeve, he cast a bleary eye at the clock on his desk. 10:10 AM. The worst day of the noblepony’s life was not even close to ending. His gaze turned to his compatriots, who were busy filling out paperwork and receiving reports. Why did he have to debase himself by doing this desk job? Weren’t there lower class ponies to handle this drudgery? If it hadn’t been for the readily available caffeine, he would have fallen asleep soon after he arrived five minutes ago.
In a landmark moment of sincere gratitude, the prince thanked his secretary, a sky blue earth pony. “That was an excellent cup of coffee, Miss Thyme.”
“You’re welcome!” She chirped. “But you should really thank Grinder down in the cafeteria. He’s the one who brews it.”
“I will make sure to.” If only to delay returning to work for a few sweet moments, he asked her about the tool in her hands. “Tell me, why are you carrying around a hammer? There doesn’t seem to be much use for it here.”
“Oh, there is. I’m under strict orders from Princess Celestia to bludgeon you senseless should you shirk from your duties or become inflicted with a severe case of ambition and attempt to seize power.” The mug dropped from Blueblood’s hooves to shatter on the floor.
Back in Ponyville, Celestia was concerned about her student. “Are you feeling alright, Twilight Sparkle?” She was not. In the middle of an apology for the trick she just pulled, she began feeling dizzy and nauseous.
“I’ll be fine. I think I’m just a little train-sick.” She lowered her self unsteadily into a bench while the princess called for a carriage. Luna placed a hoof on the unicorn’s forehead to check if she was feverish.
Far away, in a place shrouded by thick fog, something was watching the three ponies. It laughed, delighted that not even Celestia suspected anything was wrong with their present situation. To trot out an old cliché, everything was moving along as exactly as planned.
Chapter 2: Honesty, Kindness and Muffins
Twilight had at least one reason to be happy about her move to Ponyville. The library she now called home was held one of the biggest collection of books in Equestria. Added to this, it was comfortable and homey.
The rest of the evening passed quickly. Tomorrow would be the first day of school, and Celestia wanted Twilight to get to bed early (wishing no offense to her little sister). Dinner, a simple affair of take out from a local restaurant, was interrupted by a message for the princess. The scroll, which teleported into the room, came from the Ponyville Police Department. Through means unknown to Twilight, Celestia obtained a post as one of their detectives. Evidently, during her stint as the town’s librarian, she had fallen in love with mystery novels and resolved to try her hand at this profession. Besides, this job presented an opportunity for a more hands on approach to maintaining peace within the borders of the nation.
According to the message, they urgently needed the help of “Detective Hyperion”. The princess bid hurriedly them farewell and ran off toward her case.
Like her sister, Luna took on an obsession after becoming a resident of Ponyville. Namely, the Cake’s chain of department stores. On her way to bed, Twilight heard her singing the franchise’s simple, but oddly catchy theme (“Everyday’s great at your Cake…’s”).
The lavender unicorn’s dream that night was no less strange, but considerably more unfriendly.
“Where am I?” Except for the red blocks beneath her hooves, all she could see was endless fog. Lacking any other options, Twilight decided to walk in a direction which felt “right”. Hours seemed to pass before she reached some sort of portal standing where the blocks ended. Plunged into the ground before it was a sword.
Somehow know she would need to be armed, Twilight pulled the weapon out, holding it with her telekinesis. On the other side of the portal, it became clear the sword would not do her much good.
“So…you have come.” Somepony said. Twilight looked about her for some time before she saw the faint figure standing in the fog. “You are an interesting child…but you are no match for me. Not as you are now.” Before she knew what she was doing, Twilight propelled her blade at the figure. But it remained unaffected. “Rather hard of hearing, aren’t you, my little pony?”
It chuckled. “Should you seek “truth”, you will find the task even harder than so much as touching me with your weapon.” The fog became thicker, obscuring even the ground beneath Twilight. “Everypony sees only what they want to.” The unicorn felt herself growing dizzy, as if she were about to faint. “If you are clever and brave, we shall meet again. I look forward to it.” Twilight’s knees gave out. Just before she hit the floor, she heard a voice calling her.”
“Good morning!” Twilight awoke to see Luna wearing a chef’s hat. “I made you breakfast.” She yawned and rubbed her eyes. “If you’re done with the bed, I’d like it next.” The younger princess explained. She slept during the day and awoke in the early evening.
“It gets a bit lonely.” Luna admitted. “But my big sister keeps strange hours, so I get to see her sometimes.” Twilight could tell from the disappointment on the princess’s face that she wasn’t satisfied with her current situation. Still, she wasn’t sure how to go about cheering up Luna. The unicorn simply patted her on the shoulder. “Sleep tight. And thank you.” She pulled on the school uniform left on her nightstand.
Twilight was within sight of the Ponyville High gates, wondering what her classmates would be like, when she received a most unexpected answer.
“scusemecomingthrough.” A grey blur wearing the same uniform (or at least the same colors) as Twilight whizzed by. Before she could react, it thudded against a wall and collapsed to the floor in a flurry of paper, books and for some reason, muffins. “It” turned out to be a grey Pegasus with a blonde mane. Naturally, Twilight walked over to see if she needed help.
“Oh my goodness! Are you alright?” A bump formed on her head and her eyes were gazing in different directions. Nonetheless, she sprang to her hooves, grinning.
“Teehee, no problem. It happens a lot, actually. I’m a little clumsy.”
Twilight tried, and failed to stop staring at the pegasus’s wall-eyes. She clearly noticed, as the ghost of a frown flickered across her face before she smothered it under another silly grin.
“Oh, my eyes? (Twilight blushed.) They’re always like that. You must be new here. My name is Derpy. Derpy Hooves.”
“I’m Twilight Sparkle. I just transferred to Ponyville High.”
Derpy rummaged through her saddlebag, coming up with a fresh muffin, which she offered to the unicorn. “Then let me be the first to welcome you. I hope we’ll be great friends.”
“…Uh…yeah, me too.” The concept of friendship was a difficult one for Twilight to understand. Back in Canterlot, she had been friendly with the other students, but never closer than acquaintances who greeted one another on the way to class. Whenever they extended an invitation to do something fun, the lavender unicorn invariably responded with a polite refusal. Then she would retire to the library.
Having been given somepony’s friendship, Twilight was clueless as to what she should do next. She took the muffin and allowed Derpy to lead her through the school gates.
Inside the classroom, her hopes for a teacher as kind and patient as Princess Celestia were dashed. Tongue Lashing, or “The Lash”, as most students called her behind her back, was as bitter and irritable a mare as was ever born. Old and grey, with an overbite that one could use to open cans, she had built herself a reputation as the cruelest instructor at Ponyville High. Any student unlucky to be saddled with her could plentiful schoolwork, detention, and insults. Most of her pupils were of the opinion that she simply sprung, more than fully grown, out of a pile of disciplinary reports in the headmaster’s office.
Tongue Lashing began the school year by warning the ponies in her homeroom class against “swooning over each other like love-struck baboons”, then barking at Twilight to come to the front of the room. She introduced the lavender unicorn as a “sad sack from the capital.” Twilight bore her rant in silence until the old mare turned her ire toward Princess Celestia.
“I’m not here to comment on her politics, but if you’re the best she can dump into our laps, Her Majesty would be better off teaching kindergarten!”
Twilight glared at her. “Don’t talk about the princess that way.” It took quite a bit of effort on her part to avoid referring to Celestia as “my teacher”. But the unicorn knew she couldn’t risk anyone finding out the royal family had taken up residence in town.
Everypony fell silent as the two locked eyes in an impromptu staring contest. The sneer on Tongue Lashing’s face deepened. “Hmph. That’s it. You’re on my list, effective immediately.”
Before the tension between them could escalate, an orange earth pony sitting next to an empty desk raised her hoof. “Pardon, but is it okay if the new transfer student sits next ta me?” She had a noticeable accent and a blonde mane. Next to her schoolbag sat a cowpony hat.
Twilight allowed Ms. Lashing to order her to the seat.
“Consider yerself lucky. She must be in a good mood, or she’d ‘a had you doin’ detention until the end o’ tha semester.” Said the earth pony. “Can’t wait till next year, when we get somepony else.”
The unicorn nodded and sank into her seat, wondering what heinous act she had committed to warrant being punished with such an unbearable teacher.
Fortunately for her, school ended early that day. Tongue Lashing dismissed the students after taking attendance. But before they could leave, they heard a voice over the intercom. “Attention, all teachers.” It said. “Please report immediately to the Faculty Office for a brief staff meeting. All students must return to their classrooms and are not to leave the school until further notice.”
Promising dire consequences if they disobeyed, Ms. Lashing left the room. She had not been gone for a minute before everypony heard sirens outside. Twilight watched her classmates stand to look out the window. There was some discussion about a missing news reporter. A colt approached the seat in front of Twilight and asked a yellow pegasus whether this announcer was staying at her family’s inn.
Speaking in the faintest of voices, she responded that she wasn’t allowed to give him an answer. Then she hid behind her pink mane like a turtle retreating into its shell. The pegasus was much more vocal when Twilight’s neighbor asked her a question. More being a relative term.
“Didja try what we heard about tha other day?”
“Oh! …no. Not yet.” She mumbled, staring at the floor. “Sorry.”
“Ah, that’s okay.” The earth pony smiled reassuringly.
Another announcement from the intercom stated that all students were free to go. “An incident has occurred inside the school district. Please stay calm and contact your parents and guardians as soon as possible. Do not disturb the police officers. Head directly home.”
Twilight was complying with these orders when the earth pony, her friend and Derpy greeted her. “Are y’all walkin’ home by yerself?”
“Why don’t y’all come hang out with us? Oh, Ah plumb forgot. My name’s Applejack. And this here’s Fluttershy.” The pegasus’s cheeks turned pink. “N-nice to meet you.”
“I’m Twilight Sparkle.” She hesitated in replying to Applejack’s offer. The unicorn was planning to hurry home and get a head start on her reading. But the earth pony seemed so accepting, she didn’t want to refuse. “And I’d like that.” She said, feeling she had somehow made two more friends.
A strange colt was waiting to meet them at the school gates.
“Hey, you’re Fluttershy, right? Y-you want to go hang out somewhere?”
He could best be described as unusually plain. With a charcoal grey mane and a beige coat, there was nothing particularly vibrant about the earth pony’s appearance. However, his color scheme would cause him to stick out like a sore thumb among the citizens of Ponyville. The colt’s eyes were his strangest feature. Both were the exact same color as his mane, and they seemed not to reflect light.
Needless to say, the shy pegasus froze. By the way she stared at the colt, anypony watching would have thought he just sprouted wings and a horn. Behind her, students exchanged knowing smirks and wagers.
“Here we go again.”
“Another poor pony who thinks he has a chance.”
“Two bits says he gets dropped.”
“Nay. Many a colt and filly has sought the heart of fair Fluttershy, only to fail.”
“…Why are you talking like that?”
Applejack gave Fluttershy a gentle shake. “Y’all okay, Sugarcube?”
The yellow pegasus opened her mouth. What came out were not words, but a faint, high pitched noise. It was at least a minute before the shy pony mumbled, “I-I’m flattered, but I couldn’t.”
Her suitor did not handle rejection gracefully. “…Fine!” He stomped off, leaving the four ponies dumbfounded. One of the spectators added a tally to the halfway filled board he carried around. He then contemplated the piece of chalk in his hand and his cutie mark (a broken heart behind the yellow pegasus’s silhouette). What would happen to him if Fluttershy started dating? When she started dating? A terrible thought entered his head. If she never found love, his life’s purpose would main secure, wouldn’t it? But…could he do something so cruel?
That question would be answered in the days to come. Maybe.
In the meantime, Applejack asked Twilight why she transferred to their school. The unicorn responded by fabricating an excuse. “My parents are going overseas on a business trip. They sent me here to live with my aunt.” To be honest, the lie left a bad taste in her mouth. But what else could she say?
“Cool.” Derpy said. “I came here because of my folks’ job, too. My dad is manager of the Cake’s in the shopping district and my mom is assistant manager.” She pulled Twilight into a hug, not noticing the unicorn’s attempts to escape. “We should totally be business buddies! Or something like that. I’ll think of a better name.”
“You do that.” Twilight wiggled loose.
They were interrupted by a nearby conversation. A pair of housewives were talking among themselves “That poor mare…”
“Did you hear? She was found hanging from a streetlight.”
Her friend was both shocked and interested. “Really?”
The first speaker nodded vigorously. “She’s lucky that schoolfilly walked by. With those horrible injuries, who knows what would have happened if the police got were too late?”
Applejack’s eyes widened. “What did she just say?”
Twilight was about to tell her when she heard Princess Celestia calling her.
“Twilight? What in Equestria are you doing here?” The disguised alicorn rubbed tired eyes. She approached the ponies, looking a bit irritated, but concerned.
“We were just passing by.” Her student said quickly. She received stares from her classmates.
“You know her?” asked Derpy.
“I’m her guardian.” Celestia said. “Are these your friends, Twilight?” Her stern expression softened as she looked at the ponies with her “niece”.
Yet again, she hesitated to answer, but for a much shorter time. “…Yes.”
The detective managed a small smile. “I’m pleased to meet you all, but I must ask you to leave immediately. There is an investigation in progress.” Her smile disappeared the moment a stallion wearing a tie walked by, holding his stomach. It seemed he had just thrown up. “Mistletoe.”
The dark blue stallion cringed, expecting a reprimand.
“I am very disappointed, Mistletoe. This type of conduct is not befitting of a detective with your supposed experience. I have half a mind-” Once again, her irritation disappeared as soon as it had came. “Forgive me. It’s been a very long day, which will no doubt become a very long night. Wash your face, please. We have to get testimonies from the witnesses.”
Twilight couldn’t help but smile. Anger and punishment were not in the princess’s character. It was Celestia’s deeply held belief that one corrected mistakes by telling ponies what they did wrong and giving them another chance. “I’ll see you at home, Aunt Hyperion. Good luck.”
Weariness suddenly forgotten, Celestia took Mistletoe by the hoof. “No time to lose, detective. We have a crime to solve.”
“Yeah,” he added weakly. “Duty calls.”
The princess did, however, have enough time to say goodbye to Twilight. “Thank you.”
Twilight and the others left the school district, but did not go straight home. To celebrate their new friend, Derpy insisted they stop by her father’s department store for a quick lunch. Almost as soon as they arrived, the pegasus’s attention was diverted to an earth pony in an employee uniform. Her classmates watched Derpy try to help the worker move a crate of vegetables, only to spill its contents on the floor.
As they cleaned up the mess, Applejack told Twilight the yellow pony was named Carrot Top. “Her parents own a produce farm and they sell vegetables in another part of the shopping district. None of the stores there have been doing too well since the Cake’s opened up, though.”
Derpy was concerned for her friend. “You look down. Is something wrong?”
“I’m fine, really.”
The wall-eyed pegasus look doubtful. “You sure? You know you can talk to me about anything, right?”
“Right…” But Carrot Top didn’t seem certain. In any case, she changed the subject to Twilight. “Is that the transfer student I’ve been hearing about? Hi!” The earth pony walked over.
“…Hi.” Twilight wasn’t about to complain about her new friends. But if Carrot Top suddenly declared herself one as well, she would have no choice but to subject herself to some tests and learn whether she had some innate friend attracting aura. “I’m Twilight Sparkle.”
“I’m Carrot Top. You’re from the big city like Derpy, right? That’s cool. I hope you get along. She’s kind of a loner, but Derpy’s sweet. Though she does tend to get a little silly at times. Don’t be afraid to tell her if she starts to annoy you.”
“You have nothing to worry about. Derpy’s a nice girl, and we’re friends.”
“Yeah.” Derpy blushed. “No need to worry. We’re getting along swimmingly.” There was little heart behind the smile she gave her classmates.
“I’m so glad to hear that.” In the distance, a clock rang. “Whoops! My break is over. I’ll see you later!” And off she went, back into the department store.
“She’s mighty cute.” Applejack commented. “Do you-“
“Applejack!” Her pegasus friend’s blush grew more pronounced. “She’s just my friend.”
“Then why’re y’all tha color of a ripe red delicious?”
It had not escaped Twilight’s notice that Fluttershy spent the get-together with her snout buried in a book on animal care, only emerging to respond to questions and the like. She might have remained that way if Applejack hadn’t decided to change the subject.
“Hey, Fluttershy. Did we tell Twilight and Derpy about the Midnight Chapter?”
Applejack prompted her. “Yer supposed to grab yer favorite book, I think. Mind explainin’? Y’all tell it better.”
Fluttershy sat rigid in her chair. “No, thank you.”
“Y’all sure? Yer the one who heard about it, after all.”
“I’m not even sure I can remember it all.” She gave Applejack a pleading look. “Please.”
“No prob. Like I was sayin’, you’re supposed to grab yer favorite book, and open it exactly at midnight on a rainy night. When y’all start readin’, the story won’t be about Harry Trotter or whatever, but about y’all and yer soul mate.”
Twilight was skeptical. “But that’s just an urban legend, isn’t it? I mean, if there were really a way to tell the future with books, the royal mages at Canterlot would be studying it.”
“Yeah, it sounds way too weird to be true.” Derpy agreed.
“Well, the pegasus ponies are makin’ it rain tonight. Why don’t we all try it out and see what happens?” Twilight agreed. Doubts aside, she wasn’t going to complain about the chance to explore possibly magical phenomena, especially since her friend aura had been disproven. She would be reading well into the hours of the night, anyway.
Luna was reading the newspaper when Twilight got home. Over dinner (Celestia was too busy with work to come home), she learned what happened in the school district that morning. The victim was Daily News, a reporter for the paper. She was already the subject of an article in which it was revealed a local politician cheated on his wife with her. The front page report on Daily included an interview with the student who first discovered the victim. Although her face was censored, it was clear she was a yellow earth pony.
“Carrot Top?” Twilight muttered.
“Did you say something?” Luna asked absentmindedly, glancing at the door.
“Uh, no.” She looked in the same direction. “You’re worried about Princess Celestia.”
The other princess smiled sadly. “I know she’s more than capable of taking care of herself. That’s what I keep telling myself. But every time another hour passes, I can’t help but wonder why she hasn’t come home yet.”
“I’m sure she’s just still working.” The unicorn reassured her. Twilight thought of how lonely it would be for Luna after she went to bed. Was she planning to stay up until her sister came home? “If you’re waiting for Celestia, I can keep you company.”
Luna wouldn’t hear of it. Tomorrow would be a school day, and she wanted Twilight to get a good night’s rest.
The only thing left for her to do before turning in was to test the urban legend of the Midnight Chapter.
Following Applejack’s example, Twilight chose Harry Trotter and the Philosopony’s Stone. The moment the clock struck midnight, she opened the book and began reading. Sure enough, the first chapter was not entitled “The Colt Who Lived”, but “Unrequited Enmity”. A filly was running through the streets of a town stalked by some dark figure. Shocked and fascinated, Twilight tried to read further, but began experiencing the same dizziness that had come over her in her dream. She placed a hoof on the table for support.
Then she somepony speaking. “I am thou. Thou art I. Thou art the one who opens the door.” Her voice was soft and gentle and reminded the unicorn of Fluttershy.
In spite of herself, Twilight couldn’t resist the urge to correct the unseen speaker. “Shouldn’t it be “I art thou”?” Suddenly, she lost her balance and fell to the ground. The unicorn winced and tried to get up. But with one of her legs feeling numb, it was difficult. Another shock came when Twilight wondered why she could barely feel her left foreleg.
The limb was inside the book! All the unicorn could see was the shoulder her leg was (hopefully) still attached to. The now blank pages rippled like a pool of water. Things only became worse when she attempted to free herself. Twilight felt something draw her in slowly, but steadily. She pulled at the book, to no avail, even with magic. A second before it occurred to the unicorn to scream for help, the book worked its way over her shoulder and past her face. The unicorn could see nothing but endless yellow and the fog from her dream.
“MMMPPFFF!” Twilight hopped around blindly, knocking over things. With each step, she found it harder to move, as if she was being bound by unseen strings.
“Heehee, sorry. Like I said, we are one and the same. This is an unfortunate…side affect of being me.” The voice apologized.
Twilight did not respond. She was too busy flailing her head and arm to get the book off. To her surprise, it worked. The lavender unicorn looked down to see what the voice meant. At some point, clearly, she had stumbled into her sewing kit. Yarn covered her body like a wooly cocoon. “You’ll get used it. At least, I hope so. Until tomorrow.”
“Wait! Come back!” Twilight shouted after the voice. “Who are you?!”
But there was no answer. The Harry Trotter book lay next to her, its pages detailing the story of a young colt wizard once again.
Chapter 3: The Element of Magic
It was a dismayed and humiliated Twilight Sparkle who made her way home that afternoon, nursing a twice wounded ego. The first blow had come in the morning, when she woke early to tell Celestia what happened last night. The princess was skeptical until she attempted to stick her own hoof through Twilight’s book. After her efforts proved unsuccessful, Celestia was positive her student had simply dreamed about falling into a novel. As a final insult, the princess planted a kiss on Twilight’s forehead, informing the unicorn she would be the very first notified if a spell allowing ponies to enter books and reach the contents directly was invented.
The second injury, inflicted at school, was unexpected and all the more painful for this. Twilight’s mood improved immensely after she managed to coax a grudging compliment out of Professor Lashing. During her lecture on the alchemist and pony psychologist Corral Jung, the mare had stated she would be shocked if a single pony among her “collection of slackers” could tell her what a Persona was. Twilight lost no time in informing the mare that a Persona was a face one presented to the world at large. A pony’s behavior in public would be considered part of this face. All too often, a Persona served as a mask to cover up the parts of a personality that one would prefer to keep secret.
“Well, it’s good to see somepony cut into their flirting time to read. Now, do you want to lecture, or are you going to let me continue?” Tongue Lashing snapped.
During the walk home, Applejack and Derpy shared their findings on the Midnight Chapter (Fluttershy had stammered that she needed to help her parents with work and ran off). The gray pegasus was convinced she saw Carrot Top, which made it all the more uncomfortable when Applejack described a similar pony. As the earth pony was absent, they had no way of comparing what they had seen to the real thing. Twilight excitedly told them she read the Midnight Chapter and nearly entered her book in the bargain.
“Ya’ll sure ya didn’t fall asleep?” asked Applejack.
“Yeah. I mean, I once tripped and put my head through a dictionary, but getting your head into a book sounds pretty crazy.” said Derpy.
Twilight did not respond, because she couldn’t decide whether to cry or tear out her mane. Then she realized nopony had actually seen her putting her head into the novel. The unicorn knew what she needed to do. “Alright, then. We’re going to my house, and I’m going to prove to you that I almost fell through a book!” As soon as she finished speaking, the unicorn realized something else. She didn’t know if this little trick worked outside of the midnight hour. And for all she knew, last night could have been a dream.
The lavender unicorn spent the rest of the walk listening to her friends wonder if she wasn’t losing her mind. Could they still be counted as friends if they thought she was insane? At least she hadn’t mentioned the mysterious voice.
Twilight had made a huge show of grabbing the largest book in her library (The Autobiography of Argent the Dragon, Part 1, pocket sized edition), but her earlier confidence was long gone. With shaking hooves, she heaved open the volume, which was almost as large as her body. What she saw almost made her give up on trying to prove she wasn’t dreaming last night. There was nothing unusual about the book. As exciting as the adventures of the draconic knight errant were, not a single word referenced the filly she read about before. Twilight blushed deeply and leaned over to close the book.
Right before she lost her balance and fell, Twilight heard Derpy yelling in shock as the same thing happened to her.
Strangely, it was also the first thing she heard upon regaining consciousness.
“Twilight! Oh, please wake up!” She opened her eyes to see Derpy shaking her. Applejack was nowhere to be found.
The grey pegasus nuzzled her friend. “Thank goodness.” Twilight didn’t answer. She was too busy staring at their surroundings, wide eyed. It was the fog again. Thick as ever, it prevented the ponies from seeing more than a few feet in front of them. But a few feet was all the two needed to notice the desks and paper. These lay scattered randomly around the floor as if they had fallen from the sky. What paper that wasn’t crumpled was covered in indecipherable scribbles vaguely resembling letters and red slashes. Twilight anticipated seeing a few more of these after Tongue Lashing finished correcting their homework tomorrow.
Her examination was interrupted by Derpy’s cries for help. “Applejack! Applejack! Are you there?” The pegasus was looking upwards (or so Twilight assumed), hoping to see where they had fallen from.
“Does she hear us?” Twilight trotted over.
“No…” If anything, her wall eyes made Derpy look even more frightened.
“I don’t know.” The mist was making Twilight feel trapped. Was it just her imagination, or was it getting harder to breathe?”
“Looks like somepony with a serious case of writer’s block lives here.” Derpy chuckled nervously and gestured at the paper. “You think we should try to find them?”
A guide to camping Twilight read a few years ago had recommended staying put if one was lost. At the moment, this advice didn’t seem very helpful. The lavender unicorn hated the thought of standing here, watching that horrible mist roll by for who knew how long. She had never encountered a problem she couldn’t figure out, and this was not going to be the first.
“I-I think we should try and find an exit, Derpy.”
“Okay.” The pegasus replied calmly.
As Twilight lead them in a completely arbitrary direction, she felt her confidence melt away for the second time that day. A mental image of two pony skeletons covered in moldy rags did nothing for her fears. Derpy, in contrast, seemed unfazed, even a little excited.
The unicorn didn’t know how long it took for them to reach the other room.
It was a simple affair of four stone walls and a window, through which dim light was shining. The only furniture consisted of two large wooden chairs and a long table. A tea service sat on the table. Its cups and teapot had seen use, though there were no other signs anypony lived here.
“What is this place?” Twilight asked no one in particular.
“Nothing you need to worry about any more,” replied the voice from last night.
“You!” thought the lavender unicorn. “Where have you been?” Upon further reflection, a different question seemed more appropriate. “You know what this place is? Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
“I wanted to make an entrance.” She giggled nervously. ”Also, I’m not completely sure, myself. Though if you want my help, we’ll find out together.”
Before Twilight could answer, Derpy tapped her on the shoulder. “Twi? I think whoever lives here just came back.”
From the shadows of the room emerged a caricature of a pony. Perhaps at a far distance, it could be mistaken for a living thing. Up close, it looked more like a doll. The thing’s body was smooth and featureless, down to its solid block of a mane. In place of actual eyes and nostrils, it had empty black dots. A simple line lay where the mouth should have been.
“Hello?” Twilight said uncertainly.
Its only reply was to bristle with pointed black spikes. Now resembling some nightmarish pincushion, it advanced on the two ponies.
“I’ll have to get back to you on that.” The unicorn shakily told the voice. She nudged a horrorstruck Derpy back toward the way they came from.
“Twilight, please! I can’t help you without an answer!”
With shocking speed, one of the creatures leapt over the two ponies, cutting of their escape. It swung a spike tipped hoof at Derpy, who only narrowly dodged.
Fear for her friend’s life motivated Twilight into action. “Okay!”
“I art thou, and thou art I (there, are you happy, now?).” The unicorn became aware of an immense power coursing through her, almost as if she was casting a spell. Twilight hadn’t experienced such a rush of magic since the first test of her abilities. This time, however, she knew instantly how to use it. She raised her horn, releasing the energy into the air.
A flash of light illuminated the room, then faded to reveal the specter of a silvery white pegasus. She glowed with a soft light that both enraged and repulsed the shadow creatures. Her features betrayed a hint of self-consciousness. All the same, she faced the monsters with no hesitation. “Do you know who I am, Twilight Sparkle?”
“…Persona.” The unicorn whispered, awestruck.
“Could you be more specific?” She smiled encouragingly “Remember, we’re the same pony. You’ve known this since the day you were born, even if you weren’t always fully aware.”
The shadow creatures composed themselves, then attacked as one.
“Shimmer…Shimmer Snowflake!” Twilight channeled her newfound energy into another spell. Drawing the light from the window into a solid mote, she fashioned a quill and inscribed a glowing rune on each of her enemies’ bodies. Instantly, her magic took effect. The movements of the shadow creatures slowed to a crawl, then ceased. Their bodies dissolved into the air like smoke.
“That was so cool!” Shimmer grinned and blushed. “Ahem. I mean, well done.” The pegasus vanished, leaving a card depicting her in flight. In its upper right corner was drawn a six pointed star resembling Twilight’s cutie mark and it read, “I. The Magician”. Shimmer continued. “You have an inner strength great enough to change the world, if you know how to use it.” Her voice began to fade. “Remember what Igor said. The coming year is a turning point in your destiny. You must succeed in the quest before you, for the sake of all. But there is no need to fear. I shall be at your side every step of the way.”
“She was right!” Derpy grinned from ear to ear. “That was awesome!”
“I know!” said a new voice.
The pegasus and unicorn whirled around to see a small, scaly purple dragon. He waved a claw. “Hi! I’m Spike! Who are you guys?”
Twilight almost readied another spell. However, the little creature seemed so friendly, she wasn’t sure if she could have fought him. “I’m Twilight Sparkle. And this is my friend, Derpy Hooves.”
“Aww, you’re adorable.” The wall eyed pegasus wrapped her forelegs around Spike.
The lavender unicorn was pleased to meet someone friendly. Well, friendly and tangible, at any rate. “Do you live here, Spike? Can you tell us what this place is?”
“Yeah, I live here, but this place doesn’t have a name.”
So you don’t know much about it either?” Twilight wondered if he was trapped here, too. Would they meet anyone who understood this strange world of fog?
“Afraid not. Maybe you should ask the other ponies who have been coming in.”
“Mmhmm. The last couple of days, ponies have been falling in here for some reason. Not sure why, though. Nobody’s ever visited before.” Spike looked dismayed at that thought.
“Do you know where they fell in from?” Twilight asked eagerly. “We came here by accident, and we’ve been searching so long for a way out.”
The little dragon’s shoulders slumped. “You want to leave? Already?”
“I’m sorry, Spike. But our friends will be worried if we don’t return home soon.”
“Tell you what.” Derpy smiled. “We already know how to get in here. If you tell us how to get out, we can visit you whenever you whenever we can.”
Spike perked up. “Really? You promise?”
“I swear on my Granny’s blueberry muffin recipe.” She said solemnly, holding up a hoof.
“…Okay.” said the dragon. Twilight sighed in relief.
The purple unicorn was surprised when Spike led them back to where they fell in. Had the exit really been in front of them all along? She watched as the little creature took a deep breath and blasted the paper on the floor with green flame. The resulting smoke floated up toward the ceiling, or whatever was above them, and an enormous book fell out of the cloud to crash on the ground in front of them.
“There you go.” said Spike. “Try and come back soon, okay?”
“I will, Spike. Thank you so much.”
Of course! I’d never go back on a muffin promise!”
They knew what to do this time. The two ponies leapt through the book and were gone.
It was most fortunate that Twilight and Derpy had found a way out. Besides the obvious, little time had passed since they left. Applejack was still running to tell Luna what happened.
In an imitation of Derpy, she pulled them into a group hug. Unlike their pegasus friend, though, Applejack was considerably stronger. Twilight swore everything started going dark before Derpy told her they needed to breathe.
“Don’t y’all ever worry me like that again!” The earth pony frowned.
“I’m sorry, Applejack. I didn’t know that would happen.”
Derpy was a bit too excited to be apologetic. “Wait till you see what we found inside! There’s a whole other world in there with monsters and a little dragon! I can’t wait till we explore it some more!”
Applejack’s reply was cut off by the loud ringing of a bell outside. Princess Celestia’s face appeared before them, surrounded by a glowing white cloud. “Twilight, I’m going to have to ask you and your friends to stay here, where you’ll be safe. There is an emergency situation in the school district.”
“But what about my family?” Applejack asked.
“Your families have been notified.” Luna said as she entered the room. “Please stay here and try to remain calm.”
“I don’t understand.” Twilight felt her heart racing. “What’s happening?”
“Another pony has been attacked. She was found in the hanging in the same manner as Daily News.” Celestia swallowed heavily. “The victim was a student from Ponyville High named Carrot Top.”
Behind Twilight, Derpy fell on her knees.
Chapter 4: Element of Courage
In that moment, as she watched Derpy cry into Applejack’s mane, Twilight did something she would come to regret. She froze. Even worse, she thought about consulting a book on dealing with her friend’s fear and uncertainty. But her own uncertainty over whether it would help or not prevented her from doing so. Having never been faced with a friend so upset, the unicorn was worried doing the wrong thing would only hurt Derpy more.
Everypony sat in silence until Celestia returned. By then, the grey pegasus had calmed down somewhat. She sat silently, staring thoughtfully at the book Twilight and she so recently jumped into. The princess of the sun called her sister into another room to discuss “something important”. Twilight followed along, wondering if this involved her.
To her dismay, she was met with a locked door. It was not often that the princess left her out of the loop. As she turned to leave, she heard them talking faintly. Twilight was conflicted. She had to know. What was so important that Celestia could not tell even her? Does it matter? She asked herself. Isn’t she your mentor? Shouldn’t you trust her judgement? If she thought you needed to know, she would have told you. Before Twilight could walk away guiltily, she managed to catch some of their conversation.
“Dark magic?” Luna asked.
“There can be no doubt, sister. Nothing else could have left the reporter and the student in this condition.”
“The forbidden arts have not cast their pall on this land for centuries, Celestia. Most believe them to be the stuff of legend.”
“I know. And that is what worries me. I don’t want to believe a single one of my subjects could be capable of such a thing, but it is the only conclusion I can draw right now.”
Celestia did eventually give them news on what had happened. According to her, Carrot Top had been found hanging from a lamp post by a hind leg, just like Daily News. She had been rushed to the hospital was stable, but in critical condition. A thorough search of the school district and the surrounding area had revealed no possible suspects or even evidence.
“I’m sorry, Derpy.” She placed her hoof on the pegasus’s shoulder. “The doctors aren’t allowing any visitors at the moment.” The wall eyed pony nodded sadly. Twilight was worried. The normally energetic pony had not said much in some time.
Celestia headed for the door. “I will inform your families that it is safe to bring you home. Then I must help the police with the investigation. Twilight, I will see you tomorrow.” She paused. “I know you must be scared,” the princess said to the three ponies, “and I can’t promise this will be fixed in the space of a single night. But I can promise you everything will be put right, and the ones responsible will be brought to justice.” Celestia walked out into the night.
The house returned to its earlier oppressive silence. Luna had gone to make some tea, and nopony felt like doing anything but wonder how this could have happened. Violence was unheard of in Equestria, let alone Ponyville. The Derpy spoke up.
“Twilight, we have to go back in.”
“In where?” But somehow, she knew the answer.
“The book. The world of the Midnight Chapter. We both read about a filly who looked like Carrot Top. That was last night. Then she ended up like that reporter. The exact same thing happened to both of them. Maybe she was on the Chapter, too. It can’t just be a coincidence. We should ask Spike what he thinks.”
That had occurred to Twilight, but there was no proof that the Midnight Chapter and the attacks were connected. Furthermore, she didn’t think it was safe for her friend to anything dangerous in her current state of mind. “Derpy, you aren’t thinking straight-”
The pegasus cut her off. “Twilight. Please don’t ever say that to me again.” The unicorn was startled by the anger in Derpy’s glare. Twilight felt her face redden. She had done the exact thing she was afraid of. She had said something without thinking and pushed a friend away. The unicorn only hoped she was imagining the hate in those odd golden eyes.
“I’m so sorry, I-”
“No, it’s okay. Just...I’m okay. Don’t worry about it.” Her friend sighed. “Can we at least ask Spike if he’s seen Carrot Top before? Please?”
Twilight was silent for a few moments. The Midnight world, as she decided to name it, hadn’t exactly made a case for itself as a bastion of safety. But the more she thought about it, the more Derpy’s hunch seemed worth looking into. Their dragon friend mentioned ponies falling in before the two of them. She and Derpy might even find something to help Celestia with her case. Besides, Twilight was feeling guilty about accidentally upsetting her pegasus friend. “Okay. It’s not like we’ll be gone long, right?” The two ponies heaved open the diary. Once again, they plummeted into the foggy void, landing in a mess of desks and paper. Spike was waiting for them.
“You’re back!” It was remarkable how friendly the little dragon could make a mouth full of sharp teeth look.
Twilight responded cheerfully. “Hi, Spike!” Derpy kept quiet, but managed a small smile and a wave of her hoof. Her subdued manner didn’t seem to bother their friend, who wanted them to go exploring with him. In the lonely emptiness of the Midnight Chapter world, there was little else to do. “I can always find my way back here by smell,” he told Twilight, who was still concerned about delving too deeply into the strange land.
“That’s good, but what about the shadow creatures?”
“Oh, don’t worry about them. Most of them should be taking a break.”
“A break?” Twilight tried to imagine her frightful attackers from the other day sitting around and drinking coffee.
“Yeah. It’s weird. Every now and again, lots of them show up, and a few hours later, they’re gone.”
“Are they gone now?” The lavender unicorn looked around for signs of movement in the fog.
Spike nodded. “They won’t be back for days.”
“That’s a relief.” Twilight noticed that Derpy was looking restless. “Spike, remember last time we were here? You told us about the other ponies that fell in. Did you see what they looked like?”
The little dragon was also feeling restless, and impatient as well. He wished the unicorn would stop with the questions so they could go, already. As nice as Twilight was, she was also nosy. “No. Nobody ever visted me before. I tried to look for them, but they disappeared before I could find them. C’mon, I’ll show you where I think they came in.” He tugged one of her hooves, eager to get a move on. For someone so small, he was quite strong.
The little dragon was surprised to hear he had led the ponies home. Or a close imitation of Derpy’s home, at any rate. The area looked almost identical to Ponyville’s shopping district. Twilight could name several stores she passed by the other day, and the unicorn was sure she would find the library if she rounded the corner. The fear of what she would find there stopped her from doing so.
However, there were two very important differences. For one, everything from the buildings to the sidewalks lacked color, with the exception of the harsh red sky. For another, Cake’s was gone. To be more specific, somepony had razed the department store to the ground. Next to the pile of rubble lay the supplies for planting a garden. Twilight Sparkle noted the prominence of carrots among the seeds. Spike seemed to recognize the area.
“Here’s where I last smelled one of them.” He pointed to a store next to the ruins of Cake’s. It was a small, modest looking produce stand. Despite the signs indicating the prices of various wares, the stand’s vegetable bins lay empty. The door stood ajar.
“Carrot Top’s mom and dad own this place.” Depry said. “Did she go inside?” She was making an effort not to look at the remains of the store her parents managed. Twilight noticed and spoke up. “Derpy-”
“Twilight, look out!” Shimmer had returned.
“Where have you been?”
“By your side, sort of. I have my own things to attend to, you know. I was fighting off a serious case of writer’s block. I would have come running if you just asked.” replied the pegasus hurriedly. “We can talk about this later, the Shadows are coming!”
“But Spike said...” Twilight started absentmindedly. Her mind was still on how a manifestation of her personality could possibly have a life of its own.
“Uh...guys? I think I might have been wrong about the Shadows.” Three of the faceless ponies from earlier that day burst out of the store windows and door, covered in the dragon’s namesake. In spite of his small size, he seemed completely willing to defend his newfound friends. Spike charged the nearest one, ramming it into a wall. It struck the side of the vegetable stand with a thud and collapsed.
“And that’s how Spike gets it done.” The dragon gloated. His opponent recovered quickly, however. Raising a hoof, the Shadow shot two of its black points at him. Twilight gasped in horror as they shattered on his head, their impact sending him skidding back to her side. Fortunately, Spike only seemed dazed by the attack. His scales apparently prevented the points from causing serious damage.
In any case, the unicorn knew her powers would be far more effective against the enemies. She placed herself between the Shadows and her friends. “I’ll handle this!”
Twilight focused on summoning the card she had seen. As soon as it appeared before her eyes, she shattered it. Shimmer Snowflake emerged from the resulting flash of light. “Do you remember the spell from this afternoon?”
“Yes!” Calling forth the plume of light, Twlight slashed the familiar runes into the bodies of the first two Shadows, who melted away. She turned to look for the third, but it was two late. The Shadow was already aiming a black spike at her head. And the unicorn didn’t have any protective scales.
“Twilight, look out!” Right before the point plunged into her, Derpy threw herself at her friend, narrowly shoving her out of the way. Before the Shadow could fire more spikes, Twilight destroyed it. Then she rounded on Derpy.
“Are you crazy?! You could have been hurt!” The unicorn fearfully examined her friend for injuries. Derpy’s face fell.
“I just wanted to help...and besides, you’re the only one who can put up a fight against those things. If anything happened to you-”
Twilight was shocked. “Don’t say that, Derpy. Nopony is more important than anypony else.” She placed her hooves on the pegasus’s shoulders. “The only reason I’m fighting is to protect you guys.”
“I know-” Derpy turned toward the open door of the vegetable stand. “Did you hear that, Twilight? It sounds like somepony is in there.” She sprang to her hooves.
“Derpy, wait!” The unicorn was not fast enough to as her friend from flying inside. “C’mon, Spike!” In a reversal of their earlier roles, she grabbed the dragon and pulled him as she followed the grey mare.
“Prepare yourself, Twilight.” Shimmer said.
Twilight and Spike entered a long tunnel that glowed brightly. After what felt like a long walk, they made it to the other side. The two found themselves in a large, empty room, presumably the inside of the store. It looked like nopony had cleaned it in months. Aside from the faded advertisements on the floor, nothing was inside but a thick layer of dust. Derpy stood in the middle of the room, sobbing brokenly.
Her unicorn friend was shocked, but before she could ask what was the matter, she got her answer.
“Stupid, weird-eyed freak...”
“I was only nice to her because the managers were her parents...”
“Can’t she go a second without screwing anything up?”
“My parents are angry at me, and our business is going under. Why can’t Cake’s just go away?”
It was Carrot Top’s voice, and she was berating Derpy. The pegasus clamped her ears shut with her hooves, but she clearly still heard everything. “This can’t be true. This can’t be what she really thinks...” She whispered to herself.
Twilight rushed over to the grey mare. She was, again, unsure of how she could help. But this time, she wasn’t about to stand there and do nothing. Gently, she helped Derpy to her feet. “Come on. Let’s go home.”
“But it is what she thinks. And trust me, the feeling is mutual.” Said the pegasus. At least the speaker looked like Derpy. She had the same blonde mane, grey coat and odd eyes. Still those eyes were the reason Twilight couldn’t believe she was looking at her friend (aside from the fact that said pegasus was still in her arms). They were a brighter shade of yellow, and they glowed with an eerie light.
“You never came here to try and help Carrot Top. What you wanted all along was a Persona of your own? Isn’t that right, my ugly duckling?” Sneered the pony with Derpy’s face. “You may act friendly and sweet, but that’s only because you can’t stand the thought of being lonely. You’re as fake as the store-bought mix you put in your muffins.”
Derpy shook her head. “No...that’s not...” More tears welled in her eyes.
Her reflection continued. “You know all of your friends can never look at you without seeing the brat of the couple who are driving everypony out of business, and you resent them all for it. Deep down, you wish you could be different. You hate your eyes, and you hate your clumsiness. You want to be special. So special they’ll have to admire you instead of putting up with you.”
Twilight was getting progressively angrier at this doppleganger, and was about to tell her exactly what she could do with her accusations, when Derpy spoke up.
“How would you know?!” She choked out.
“Because I am you.” It replied, a malicious smile playing on its lips. “Carrot Top was nothing more than your means to an end, to become as special as Twilight!”
“Shut up! That’s not what I think! You’re not me!”
The other Derpy paused, as if put off by her claim. Then it began cackling, loudly and harshly. “Maybe not now. But once you’re gone, I WILL BE!!” The shadows in the room sprang to life, amassing around her body, forming a massive orb that grew larger and larger. It burst, scattering flour everywhere. When it settled, Spike, Twilight, and Derpy could see what happened to the doppleganger.
“I am a Shadow, the true self!” At first glance, one might describe the figure standing before the ponies as a knight encased in black armor with a white cape. But the horrible red stains covering it and the feet ending in smoky wisps would prove this first impression wrong. All that remained of the other grey pegasus were the yellow eyes glowing beneath the visor. “I will show everypony how feeble and pathetic they are compared to me!”
“W-what...?” Derpy swayed unsteadily on her legs, the collapsed on the floor, unconscious. The unicorn and the dragon quickly ran to her rescue.
“Spike! Take care of her!” The little creature nodded and carefully began dragging the fallen pegasus away. Twilight summoned her Persona once more.
“Please be careful, Twilight. This enemy is beyond anything you’ve faced, yet.” Shimmer warned.
The black knight was ready with its own, unusual spell. It waved a glowing hoof and the scattered flour coalesced into white balls of what looked like dough. Confused, but undaunted, Twilight tried attacking with the quill. Displaying incredible swiftness, it dodged aside with a clank of armor, and continued its spell. The empty room filled with the smell of baking dough as the flour cooked.
The unicorn had to stop and ask, “I though we were fighting? Why are you making baked goods?”
From beneath the helmet came a deep chuckle. “Who said they were baked goods?”
Spectral tendrils resembling worms burst from the dough balls, flailing about and shattering the store windows. They reached to entangle the knight’s enemies. Twilight managed to duck out of the way. Shimmer was not so fortunate. The white pegasus shrieked as the tendrils coiled around her body.
Twilight was even more confused now. Trying to ignore the sudden feeling of numbness in her horn, she raised an eyebrow at Shimmer. “Can she do that? Aren’t you some kind of mystical presence?”
“I’m just a writer!” she cried, getting red in the face. “I didn’t sign up for this!”
“Just my luck.” The unicorn tried to call upon the powers of her Persona, but found herself unable. “Oh, this is bad...” Twilight and a struggling Shimmer were dragged toward the globs of dough. This would have simply been disturbing before the Shadow developed them further. After one last hand motion, they developed gaping black jaws filled with sharp teeth.
This is not how I want to go. I mean, eaten by... Twilight sniffed the air. Muffins? In later days, she would have trouble so much as touching the pastries again. Suddenly, she had an idea. Shimmer’s magic might have been blocked off, but her own, considerable powers might still be usable. Reaching for a shard of broken glass with her telekinesis, she flung it at a tendril, cutting the spectral worm in two.
“NO!” Screamed the Shadow. Twilight pressed the advantage and attacked the bonds with a vengeance, tearing through them in short order. The creature began casting another spell on the demon muffins (that was what Twilight mentally named them), but the unicorn was quicker. This time, she cast the rune spell on the baked monsters. They burst, covering everything, including the Shadow’s visor, in flour. She coughed and fulled at her helmet, trying to get her vision clear. Twilight succeeded in doing so more quickly.
“Now! While she’s distracted!” Acting on impulse, Twilight flung the glowing quill at the Shadow. It struck her right where her heart should be. A spiderweb of cracks appeared, spreading from where the quill was to the rest of her armor. It crumbled away, revealing the doppleganger of Derpy, who fell on her side.
“Is it over?”
“No, Twilight. Be on your guard.” The unicorn began casting a spell before she was interrupted by Derpy. The Derpy she knew, that is.
“Stop!” Breathing heavily, the pegasus staggered over to her twin. “You were right. I admit it.” She clamped her eyes shut and gritted her teeth, as the confession was taking a physical toll on her. “You’re...you’re...me.” She sniffed. “I...hate what I am. I’m clumsy, I’m dumb, and I look weird. Everything you said about me was true-”
“-but she didn’t say everything about you.” Twilight said. “You might have been hiding how you really felt, but I refuse to believe the pegasus who gave me that muffin on my first day wasn’t a sweet, kind pony and my first friend in Ponyville. We all have our flaws, Derpy. It doesn’t mean the good things about us aren’t true.” She winked. “By the way, store-bought mix or not, the muffin was delicious.
“It still stinks to face yourself, though.” Both ponies giggled.
Spike pointed at where the doppleganger was standing. “Guys, look!” She was fading and emitting tiny motes of light. Right before she disappeared completely, Derpy’s twin smiled at her.
An earth pony wearing a less confining set of white armor appeared in her place. She was tall and muscular, with a peach colored coat and black mane. On her back sat a picnic basket, and on her belt was a Neighponese sword, or katana.
“We cannot choose who we are born as. But we can choose what to do with the life given to us. There is no obstacle that cannot be overcome with the power of courage. Do you know who I am?”
“You’re me.” Derpy answered determinedly.
“Well, yes, but I do have a proper name.”
The pegasus’s eyes widened in realization. “Oh, right. That. Um...I’d love to tell you, but it’s in Neighponese, and I can’t quite speak or pronounce it.”
The Persona smiled patiently. “Are you so sure? Why don’t you give it a try?”
“Close enough.” The earth pony vanished, leaving a tarot card with her image, along with a trio of golden bubbles, on it. It read “X. The Wheel of Fortune”. Then the card faded from sight as well. Derpy sighed wearily, staring at the empty vegetable stand.
“Carrot Top...if only you knew...I wish you’d just told me how you felt about me and everything else. Then you’d be okay, even if we probably wouldn’t be friends anymore. That is what happened, right, Spike? She was attacked, just like me?”
The little dragon nodded solemnly. “I think so.”
“Did this place come from her mind, too?”
“I’m not sure, but that sounds about right. The last time ponies fell in here, the Shadows started popping up and getting violent. Then after I couldn’t sense the ponies any more, they calmed down and disappeared.”
“That must have been when they ran into their other selves.”
Twilight consulted Shimmer. “Is Spike correct about all this?”
“Yes. You should trust him. He’s been here much longer than me.”
The pegasus continued questioning him. “You think Carrot Top and Daily News were okay until the Shadows started appearing? They just wandered around, trying to find a way out, until...” She couldn’t bring herself to think of them getting hurt.
“Right,” Spike answered sadly. “I’m not sure why we found the other you today, but we were lucky Twilight was here.”
The lavender unicorn blushed. “Thanks.” She noticed that Derpy still looked unwell, even with her Shadow gone. “Spike, I’m sorry, but I think it’s time for us to get home. Derpy looks like she needs her rest. I’m pretty tired, too.”
Their dragon friend was understanding. “Okay, I’ll lead the way back to the entrance.”
From its fog covered vantage point, a dark figure watched the three head for the pile of paper and desks. This was an unexpected development. Although it would impede her progress, it wasn’t nearly enough to threaten her. Things would continue as planned.
Chapter 5: Element of Kindness
Much of the police department had returned from their impromptu search of the shopping district to nurse their disappointment and redouble their efforts. The building was filled with the buzz of officers moving and talking. Nopony had found any trace of the mysterious attacker, except for a scarcely breathing Carrot Top. They were all worried.
In contrast, the conversation taking place inside the chief’s office was subdued and serious.
“Chief Shield. We must make a statement on these attacks. No matter what happens, the citizens will be worried. But to remain silent and leave them to wonder about their friends and family would be the worst thing of all. It would mean a failure to act as law enforcement.”
Chief Bronze Shield was a very large, blue earth pony with muscular limbs. In his middle age, his mane had gone grey. “So, what do you propose, Detective?” It was clear by the rings around his eyes he had lost plenty of sleep over this case. He rubbed his aching head. “What do we say?”
Celestia sighed. “We must be honest with them.”
“If you had called me in sooner, you would be telling the public this villain has been brought to justice.” The speaker was a pony of the same age as Twilight and her friends. Instead of a school uniform, however, she dressed in a pointed wizard’s hat and robe. Her coat was light blue, and her mane was a paler coat of the same.
The princess managed to hide her resentment at the comment. “But we have not. So it falls upon us to give the citizens less than cheerful news. Do you have any suggestions on the matter?”
“Of course. By all means, be truthful. It is always darkest before the heroine appears to save the day. And you may rest assured she will.” Clearly, the young pony was not referring to Detective Hyperion or the Chief.
“For the sake of Ponyville, I hope you are right.”
Back in the world of the Midnight Chapter, a different, but equally important promise was being made.
“There’s definitely a connection.” The three friends had stopped short of the entrance to talk about something that had been bothering them during the walk back. “Anypony who runs into the Shadows in this world will end up just like Carrot Top and the reporter.” Twilight shuddered at the thought. “What we need know now is whether they found their way in by accident...” The unicorn hoped she was wrong about the second possibility. “...or if somepony threw them in here. Spike, you said you just sensed them falling in, right?”
“Yep. If anyone-er, pony pushed them, I wouldn’t have known.” Spike nodded.
“The police think somepony attacked them. But that could just be because they don’t know about the Midnight Chapter. Or what could happen to anypony who finds there way in here.” Twilight mused over the question out loud. “Still, if Carrot Top and Daily News were forced in here, the same thing would have happened to them.” She looked at her friends. “It’s up to us, then. We have to find out how they ended up in here, and protect anypony else who falls in from the Shadows.” At least until she had a chance to prove the existence of the Midnight Chapter to Celestia. If that was the right decision. Ponies would likely attempt to investigate this new world, and they would be completely unprepared for its dangers.
Derpy’s voice banished a horrible mental image of the princess hanging from a lamppost, bloodied and broken. “We can do it!”
The lavender unicorn was shaken out of her grim reverie. “Wha-? I mean, right.”
Derpy summoned forth her card. “We’ve got the power of Persona, and we’ll save the world from the horrors of the Midnight Chapter!”
Spike looked hurt. “You know, not everything in here is a scary monster.”
“Heehee, of course not!” The grey pegasus hugged him. “Besides, you’re part of our team, too.” The little dragon was cheered up immediately. But his good mood was short lived. “Whoa...” Derpy suddenly staggered, her eyes fluttering.
“Oh, no.” Twilight rushed over to support her friend. “Spike, we’ve got to go, now. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it. Just take care of Derpy.” He summoned the large book again.
“Remember our promise. I’ll be back.” She was guiding the pegasus into the portal when the dragon called back to her. “Wait!”
“Don’t go into any other book than the one you use to get in here. There’s no telling where you might end up if you do.”
Twilight nodded quickly before hurrying through the entrance back to Ponyville.
To her relief, the pegasus recovered almost instantly once they were home. Derpy flopped down on the couch, tired from her ordeal. “There’s something weird about that world, Twilight. The whole time, it felt like the life was being drained out of me, bit by tiny bit.”
“Yeah. I know what you mean.” Twilight hadn’t noticed in all the excitement, but during their flight from the world of the Midnight Chapter, the going had been difficult. “The further we walked, the more sluggish I felt.” It crossed her mind that the world itself might be as dangerous and even hostile as its Shadows. The thought made her shudder.
“Hey, Twilight?” Derpy stared at the ceiling thoughtfully. Or rather, she turned her face toward the ceiling. One of her eyes was looking at a wall. “We never told Applejack what happened the first time we entered the book. I was going to, but then your aunt sent us that message.”
The unicorn nodded. “Right. She needs to know. But...I think you should be the one to say exactly what happened inside the vegetable stall. It was completely personal, and I just wouldn’t feel right otherwise.”
“Sure, Twilight. I will.”
As before, it appeared their hours in the Midnight world translated to mere minutes in the real one. Although she had seen them fall into the book, Applejack was shocked at what happened inside. Twilight swallowed as she watched the earth pony turn over the account of their adventure in her head. She tried, and failed to keep herself from worrying Applejack thought they were making the whole thing up. “You believe us, don’t you?”
“That’s really a bad habit.” Shimmer’s voice was both reassuring and teasing. “Expecting the worst of ponies, I mean.”
“Oh, hush.” Twilight retorted mentally.
Her friend stared at her for a moment longer before giving her a warm smile, as if she had sensed Twilight’s misgivings. “Yeah. Of course, I do.” The strange thing was, she couldn’t explain why she believed Twilight. If Applejack had to put it in words, she would have to say her friends seemed so sincere it wouldn’t feel right to doubt them. But it was more than that. Some kind of intuition was telling her Twilight at least thought she was right.
The unicorn smiled back. “Thanks, Applejack. I’d actually show you all this crazy stuff, but it would just get us both in trouble.” She laughed nervously.
“So, what do y’all think we should do about this?”
Twilight looked uncertain. “I think the best thing to do right now is wait. See if any more ponies get trapped in there.” The significance of Applejack asking her for advice was not lost on the unicorn. She would gladly fight to protect Ponyville from the Shadows, but leading her friends against them was another, far heavier responsibility entirely.
Applejack remembered. “Oh, that’s right. All three of us read about Carrot Top before the police found her, didn’t we?” Derpy nodded sadly.
Twilight nodded. “And that’s how we can tell if anypony’s inside the Midnight Chapter. Opening a book at midnight doesn’t show you your soulmate. It shows you who’s in danger. So, we should check our books on rainy days. Make sure nopony has fallen in.”
The earth pony glanced out the window. “Well, it’s gonna rain tonight. I’ll take a look and tell you what I see tomorrow.”
The rest of the evening after Applejack and Derpy left was spent quietly. But it wasn’t a tense quiet. Celestia managed to beg a few precious hours off from her superiors and there was a lot of helping with chores and even a few warm smiles. It went without saying. They were here for one another and would be in the days to come, in spite of the crisis at hand. Yet, Twilight had the feeling something was amiss in the household. Other words were going unsaid.
One of Celestia’s first magic lessons began with instruction on how to relax and clear one’s mind before beginning the process of casting a new spell. Right before midnight, with the Harry Trotter book lying closed before her, Twilight took a moment to go through the now well practiced motions of sitting still, closing her eyes, and concentrating on her own breathing until she could no longer hear even the rain against her window. The prospect of reading the Midnight Chapter once again was making her nervous. “Calm down.” She told herself, flipping open the book. “If anypony appears, we’ll be there to rescue them. We have to.”
“That’s the spirit.” Shimmer reassured her.
“One of these days, you’ll need to tell me where you keep going.”
“No promises, sorry. But if I’m ever not around and you need help, call for it. Someone will answer.” The image of a blank card appeared in Twilight’s head. “Now, I believe you were in the middle of something?” The clock chimed midnight.
“Right.” Heart pounding, Twilight opened her book.
“Oh, no.” She recognized the myth which now occupied the pages of the novel. An ancient hero, returning from a war, was pursued by the vengeful god of the seas. He was hurled far off course, and encountered many monsters and wonders trying to return home. One of them was a sorceress who lived a palace full of wild animals, her pets and victims of her magic. The specifics of the witch’s appearance were not described in the story (the myth stated that she was lovely, with the face of a goddess), but Twilight was sure she was not a yellow pegasus with a pink mane.
The purple unicorn sat at her desk the next morning, looking up every time another student entered the room, waiting for Fluttershy. Similarly, Derpy and Applejack kept standing when somepony opening the door.
Twilight blinked bleary eyes. She was tired from a night of lying awake and worrying about her friend. It was all she had been able to do. There was no way of reaching Derpy in the middle of the night, and she couldn’t risk heading into the Midnight Chapter alone. When Tounge Lashing began calling attendance, and her pegasus friend was absent, Twilight almost wished she had.
No. Calm down. Fluttershy might just be running late. You don’t know for sure that anything bad has happened to her. Yet the unicorn could not prevent her imagination from running away with her once more. In her mind’s eye, she saw Fluttershy walking down a deserted street at night, shivering with the cold. The pegasus kept stopping to look behind her, clearly nervous that she was being followed. Seeing nothing, she walked on, unaware of the shadowy figure waiting on a nearby rooftop. Fluttershy had only enough time to scream before it seized her. Now that Twilight thought about it, she could almost hear the shy pegasus’s voice outside.
“Hey. What was that?” A student with a window seat craned his head to look toward the schoolyard.
“Let him go! Please!”
“Hahaha! Why don’t you make me, Klutzershy? Ow!” A burly young pegasus was being chased by Fluttershy. At first, Twilight couldn’t understand why, but as he flew closer, she realized the student was holding a small white rabbit in his front hooves. The furry creature was none too pleased with this state of affairs, and struggled to get free, kicking at its captor.
“Please! You might drop him!” Try as she might, Fluttershy simply couldn’t keep up to the more athletic colt.
“What, you think I’m a klutz like you?” The bully did a loop in the air.
“Hey! What is this, a movie theater? Get back to your seats, and stay there while I sort this out!” Ms. Lashing snarled, jumping to her feet. “When I get my hands on that little...” By the time she reached the door, Applejack was already outside the classroom. “What the...?! I said get back to your seat!”
Back in the schoolyard, the bigger pegasus was having trouble keeping hold of the rabbit. “Stop kicking me, fuzzball! OW!” He raised a hoof to cover his eyes, allowing the animal to slip out of his grasp.
“Angel!” Putting on a burst of speed worthy of a professional flyer, Fluttershy caught the rabbit before he hit the ground. The colt landed, kneading a watering eye.
“There, you happy now? You got your little rat back!”
But Fluttershy was far from happy.
“Don’t you ever do that again! Angel could have been hurt!” The other student backed away, having suddenly lost his nerve.
“My friend is a living, breathing, feeling person! Not a toy! How could you be so careless?!”
Fluttershy followed him as he retreated. The colt could only stammer in response. “Would you
like it if somepony snatched you into the air and started flying like a maniac?! Would you?!”
“I...I...” The colt turned tail and fled. As quickly as it surfaced, Fluttershy’s anger faded.
“Wait. Come back.” she said quietly. “I’m sorry...” The bunny leaped out of her arms, giving the pegasus an expression clearly indicating that he had the situation well in hand, and she was interfering. It was with a slightly more softened one that he attempted to brush the tears from her eyes with a furry paw.
“Fluttershy! Are y’all okay?” At that moment, Applejack and Tongue Lashing burst into the schoolyard.
“That’s enough! All three of you are in for it when classes are over, mark my words!”
The teacher managed to retrieve Fluttershy without too much further trouble. Tongue Lashing was (unsurprisingly) adamant that no animals come into the classroom, and as much as Angel wanted to join her, Fluttershy had to convince her friend to go home. She succeeded, but not before a glare was exchanged between the rabbit and the teacher, swelling the ranks of The List by one.
Fluttershy spent the rest of the day living up to the latter part of her name. She sat at her desk with her head bowed, writing notes (very quiet writing, as it happened) and only bothering to respond when it looked like somepony really wanted her attention. As relieved as her friends were that the pegasus hadn’t fallen victim to the horrors of the Midnight Chapter, they were very concerned. Their teacher had been surprisingly lenient, all things considered. She let Applejack and Fluttershy off with the most dire warning she could muster, claiming a need to “find that numbskull who thinks he’s in a Cloudsdale race.”
If Fluttershy’s life hadn’t been in danger, Twilight would have waited until she was feeling better before giving her the bad news.
The pegasus went rigid, then fell over.
The three of them gingerly helped her to her hooves. “It’ll be okay, Fluttershy, I promise.” Twilight wasn’t sure how much she believed her own words. “The only way anypony can fall in is by reading the Midnight Chapter. As long as you don’t do that, you’re safe. The best thing for you to do right now is go home, where you’ll be safe. We’ll take you.”
Applejack patted her on the back, and she seemed to calm down. “...Ok. Thanks.”
The journey was uneventful, up to the point that Fluttershy spotted the bully from school sitting at a coffee shop. “H-hello...” In response, the pegasus took to his heels. “Wait! Stop! I just want to apologize!” Before anypony could react, they both rounded the corner and were gone.
“Fluttershy! No!” They hurried after her, but by the time they reached the intersection, she was nowhere to be found. “What...what do we do now?” Twilight looked around, close to panic. Applejack took charge. “Let’s split up and search for her! She couldn’t a’ gone far.” She turned to Derpy. “While we do that, y’all fly to her house and ask her ma and pa if they’ve seen her.”
After an hour, it became clear their efforts were in vain. The grey pegasus returned with news that Fluttershy had not returned home. “Now what do we do?” Derpy bit her lip nervously. “Should we go to the police?”
“Fluttershy’s only been gone for an hour. And what could we say? They’ll never believe she fell into a book!”
Even Applejack began to look scared. “We have to do something!”
Twilight nodded decisively. “Then we have to assume she has fallen into the Midnight world. Let’s go check with Spike.” She headed for the library, ignoring her fears that the vow she and Derpy made the other day was for nothing, that they couldn’t protect anyone.
The unicorn and pegasus made their way into the book unheeded (Luna was asleep, and Celestia wasn’t home). What they saw on the other side was shocking. For one thing, Applejack had leapt in behind them. For another, the room of desks and paper had been replaced by a large boat in the middle of a raging storm. Spike was hanging on to the deck for dear life. “HELP!!!”
“Spike! What happened?!” Twilight struggled to keep her balance.
“I don’t know!” The little dragon had to shout to be heard over the wind and rain. “I was waiting for you guys when everything changed!”
Derpy and Applejack were having similar difficulties with staying on their hooves. “Twilight!” Shouted the pegasus. “There’s something out there!” Looking out to sea, the unicorn spotted a yellow scaled tail plunging into the water. She knew they had to act fast.
“Derpy! Do you know how to clear clouds away?!”
“Sure! I watch the other pegasi all the time!”
“Twilight, she can’t do it all alone, even if she does know how to control the weather!”
“I’m not alone!” Derpy summoned her card. “Momotaro!” The pink earth pony appeared and drew her sword. Together, they began cutting a swath through the massive grey curtain. The pegasus kicked at the clouds with all her might, while the Persona deflected lighting bolts and imbued her with some sort of magic.
“We’ve gotta help her!” Applejack looked to Twilight, as if prompting her.
She nodded. “Shimmer, can you do anything about this?” But the writer pony was silent. “Shimmer?” Twilight tried summoning her card, only to receive a different one. It was blank, save for the name. “XVII. The Star.” There was no time to ponder this. “Persona.” The figure that appeared was a unicorn stallion with a green mane, wearing silver armor. He introduced himself calmly, unafraid of the stormy weather. “Sir Gawain of the Round Stable. I am at your service, milady.”
Twilight didn’t know how to react. “C-can you help us clear away the clouds?”
“Nay. I have been sent to defend you against another threat.”
“You mean...” She looked out to sea, but could not not find the swimming creature. Until it surfaced. The beast looked like a massive snake with seven heads. Each bared sharp fangs and attacked. “AAAHHH!” Twilight recoiled in terror, but Applejack and Spike were ready. The earth pony was an orange blur as she rushed the creature, kicking it in the snout. While it was distracted, the dragon grabbed it by the head and scratched at its face.
Twilight knew she couldn’t leave her friends to face the enemy alone. She and the unicorn knight seized the beast with their telekinesis, preventing it from biting Applejack. Her kicks, however, seemed to be having little effect. With one powerful lunge, it broke free, throwing Spike back on to the ship. The creature sunk its teeth into the deck, and Twilight felt herself being lifted into the air. Was it going to tear the whole thing apart? “Everypony hold on!” She called to the others.
Then Derpy broke through the clouds, revealing a luminous golden sun. Gawain looked into the sky, basking in the light. It was with a fierce grin that he called upon his magic once more, breaking the creature’s grasp on the ship. The knight’s telekinesis in turn hoisted the monster. Gritting his teeth with effort, he hurled it up and over the horizon.
Gasping with exhaustion, the four lay on the deck. “Thank you, Gawain. Really. Does this mean you’re my new Persona, though?” The unicorn knight shook his head. “Merely a substitute. Call upon me again when you need a fellow magician to aid you, or a swordspony.”
As he faded from sight, Shimmer appeared. Twilight sighed. “Welcome back.”
“Thanks.” The pegasus smiled.
“So does that mean I can have more Personas, too?”
The ship clearly knew where it was going. Not half an hour later, it floated to a beach lined with lush green grass and trees. Looking at the plants curiously, Applejack munched on a flower.
Twilight was horrified. “Applejack, what are you doing?!”
“What? Tastes just fine ta me.”
“It could be poisonous! In fact...you shouldn’t have come in with us. It’s dangerous. You don’t even have a Persona like us.”
The earth pony opened her mouth to protest, but what came out was a bark. More followed as she tried to talk. Her friends gaped. “Applejack are you-” There was a puff of smoke, and they were left staring at a dog with brown and white fur.
They were interrupted by a peal of merry laughter. Fluttershy walked over the hill, wearing a long white gown. She was flanked by a pair of massive rabbits with pointed front teeth. One of them carried an identical pegasus on its back. She was unconscious.
Derpy’s odd eyes darted from one yellow pony to the other. “You must be...”
“The true Fluttershy? Indeed. And this is what happens to anypony who trespasses on my territory.” Applejack the dog let out a confused whine. “Hmph. You have only yourself to blame, you cur.” She turned her regard to Twilight and her friends. “Still, I am not a stranger to mercy. Only surrender your cards, and I will spare your miserable lives. Otherwise, prepare to face the wrath of the most powerful sorceress in the world!”
“No...no...” Fluttershy heaved herself off the rabbit’s back. “You have no right to treat them like this...” She stood, her voice growing angry. “I don’t care how good at magic you are. Using it to hurt people makes you nothing but a bully.”
The Other Fluttershy was unfazed. “And yourself? Remember that boy who grabbed Angel?” Her counterpart flinched as if she had been struck. “And those brats from Kindergarten?” Fluttershy trembled. “You don’t honestly mean to presume you’ve never gotten angry. Never used your little gift to get even with anypony who wronged you. You’ve even thought of using this...Stare on your own parents. Have you forgotten? When you told them you wanted to raise animals in Ponyville.” She patted Fluttershy’s head. “I suppose that makes us both bullies, doesn’t it?”
The pegasus’s lip trembled. “No...It does not!”
“Uh, oh.” Spike said.
“You’re not me!”
Her doppleganger laughed again, her features changing as she threw her head back and roared her merriment. Her limbs grew longer and paler. Her hair and clothing darkened to an inky black. And her face became almost unrecognizable as Fluttershy. A terrible sort of beauty had replaced the yellow pegasus’s pretty face. She cast her gaze on Derpy and gave an order to the beastly rabbits. “Attack!”
The grey pony stood unmoving, seized by a sudden fear. She could not pry her eye away from the Shadow’s cold, empty ones.
Fluttershy looked to her friends, then to her twin. She gave the latter a look of despair and horror, then crumpled to the ground.
“Shimmer, don’t take this the wrong way. But could I tag in Gawain?”
“Am I not good enough for you?” She asked, indignant.
“He seems to be good at handling giant monsters.”
“I’m perfectly capable of doing the same, thank you. Just give that quill spell another try.” A glowing feather shot through the air, imbeding itself in a monstrous rabbit, then exploding. The Shadow fell over. Twilight turned around to look for the other, just in time to see it bearing down on her. She covered her face with her hooves, but the expected strike never came.
Applejack barked triumphantly as she and Spike wrestled it to the ground. “We got him, Twilight! The big baddie is all yours.”
“I am, but if you’d rather wait for your knight in shining armor to rescue you-Look out!” Twilight stopped just short of running into a wall of thorns that erupted from the ground.
“Useless, absolutely useless!” Fluttershy’s Shadow growled. “I could kick myself for sending you two buffoons to stop the intruders. You’re good for nothing better than spell fodder!” A thorn covered branch erupted from the ground, descending to crush Twilight. Momotaro’s sword cut it into pieces. “Hehe, I managed to close the eye that was looking at her.” Derpy grinned, winking in demonstration.
It was then that Twilight realized what the Shadow meant by spell fodder. The sorceress was draining some sort of energy from her minions. They grew weaker and began fading. “That’s just awful.” She said, suddenly filled with sympathy for the bizarre animals. “Derpy! Keep her busy! I have an idea!”
“Right!” She soared at the witch, Persona at her side.
Twilight focused all her strength on cutting off the flow of energy from the spell. Barriers formed over the fallen beasts, protecting them from their master’s magic.
“No! How could this be?!” Shadow Fluttershy snarled.
“It’s over. Give up and let Fluttershy go.” Derpy raised her hooves threateningly.
“I will not be beaten by the likes of you!!” She opened her eyes wide, and suddenly, Twilight could see nothing else but her angry face, hear nothing but her scream, and feel nothing but fear.
When the world faded back into view, Fluttershy was slumped against her twin’s shoulder, crying. The Shadow hugged her awkwardly, face marked with what resembled guilt. “I’m you...You were right. We are the same pony. So, please. Before anyone else gets hurt. Stop.”
In between sobs, Fluttershy continued. “Ever since I was little, I’ve had this...ability. When I’m especially angry, I...I don’t know what happens. It’s like I throw my emotions at somepony, and they back down. I promised I’d never use it for my own gain, but...” The pegasus turned teary eyes toward Applejack. “I did. Then I acted helpless to convince myself that I was just trying to fend off bullies. I hid behind my friends and family and let them take care of me. I’m just as much of a bully as anypony who’s ever picked on me. And too much of a coward to admit it. I preferred to let the ponies I love get hurt than admit I did something wrong.” She sniffed.
Applejack trotted over, nuzzling her with a wet nose.
“But you’re admitting it now, Fluttershy.” Derpy pulled her into a hug.
“Just because you’ve misused your...stare in the past, doesn’t mean you’re doomed to do that forever.” Twilight looked at the ground guiltily. “I haven’t always done magic for the right reasons, either.”
Fluttershy sniffed again. “You haven’t?”
The unicorn blushed. “No. And after...um, my teacher fixed everything, she taught me what magic was all about. It’s about helping others. It’s about making yourself a better pony instead of simply getting what you want. Magic is a gift, meant to be shared with the world. I think what you have can work the same way.”
“You’re not a bad pony. You just made a mistake.” Fluttershy’s Shadow said. She rose in the air and grew, larger and larger, until she could have put the ship to shame. She was now clad in a grey cape and steel helmet. Her coat had turned dark purple, while her mane was now a shade of brown. The huge pony’s cutie mark was a compass rose.
“B-but you said...”
“I know what I said. But I never mentioned the times you scared off wild animals and protected your classmates. Or the times you stopped them from trying something dangerous. You can, and have used The Stare for good. All you need is to learn responsibility.”
Fluttershy sniffed. “So, I’m not...”
The Persona reached an enormous hoof to wipe away threatening tears. Despite her size, the tender gesture looked easy for her. “Neither bully nor coward. You have the heart of a lion.” She knelt before her counterpart. “Do you know my name?”
“Svyatogor. Mentor of heroes. Papa told me a story about you, once.”
The giant nodded, and disappeared to reveal a tarot card bearing her image. It read, “VIII. Strength.” In the corner was Fluttershy’s cutie mark, three pink butterflies.
With another puff of smoke, the dog nuzzling her became a pony once more. “Ah’m so sorry I couldn’t save y’all from fallin’ in here.” Applejack looked close to tears herself.
“You coulda been hurt! I can’t believe I let myself get so careless! Are y’all okay?”
“I’m fine. In fact, I’m great! I feel better than I have in a long time.”
But she gratefully accepted the group hug her friends gave her.